David Hockney is in lockdown at his house in Normandy with his dog Ruby and two of his long-standing assistants, JP and Jonathan.
He is in the garden most days, drawing the spring awakening on his iPad. In a BBC exclusive, he is sharing 10 of his most recent images (including one animation), nine of which have never been published before, for us all to enjoy at this difficult time, along with his thoughts on the role of art in life.
The artist previously visited Normandy in the autumn of 2018 following the installation of his stained-glass window in Westminster Abbey. He thought it would be a good place to draw and paint the arrival of spring, something he’d done around a decade earlier in East Yorkshire. Those pictures, paintings, and films were the basis for a successful exhibition in 2012 at the Royal Academy in London.
He was attracted to Normandy because it offered a broader range of blossoms, with apple, cherry, pear and plum trees, as well as the hawthorn and blackthorn he had painted before.
“We found this house with a large garden that was cheaper than anything in Sussex”, he wrote in a letter to me. They bought it, renovated it and built a small studio; and have been living there since early March.
“I began drawing the winter trees on a new iPad,” he said. “Then this virus started…
“I went on drawing the winter trees that eventually burst into blossom. This is the stage we are right now. Meanwhile the virus is going mad, and many people said my drawings were a great respite from what was going on.”
He sent some of his work in progress to friends, which led to him releasing one image of daffodils for publication, which he titled: Do Remember They Can’t Cancel the Spring. He is now sharing nine more, all painted in the last few days.
“Why are my iPad drawings seen as a respite from the news? Well, they are obviously made by the hand depicting the renewal that is the spring in this part of the world.”
The point being that his images are the product of him looking directly at nature and depicting or representing what he sees by transmitting his sensory reaction through his fingers onto paper via a pencil, rather than mediating the process through a photograph.
His pictures are a record of how he, uniquely, is experiencing reality of his subject and the space in which it exists. The one-eyed mechanical camera flattens out all this individual nuance.
“I intend to carry on with my work, which I now see as very important,” he wrote to me.
“We have lost touch with nature rather foolishly as we are a part of it, not outside it. This will in time be over and then what? What have we learned? I am 83 years old, I will die. The cause of death is birth.
“The only real things in life are food and love in that order, just like our little dog ruby. I really believe this and the source of art is love.
“I love life.”